For Parents

Tell me a story, Mama

mom-sun-talking

It’s 8:00pm, and the lights should be out by 8:30. Kids are fumbling into their pajamas, squirrely as usual. They crash into the bathroom to fight over the sink. Once teeth are brushed, you are ready for lights out. They beg, “tell me a story!” You reach for the stack of illustrated literature, and before you can open a book they say “no, Mama, make up a story!”

Ugh. More work for Mama’s tired brain. Look at this beautifully bound book, you think. Someone has already gone through a lot of effort and time to create this masterpiece. I will let the author do the storytelling. But no, they want an original.

“Once upon a time…” You scan the room. “Someone did not put away their pants.” This is going nowhere fast, you think to yourself. I don’t know what to say.

Yet your audience is riveted. They could care less where the inspiration is coming from. They are in the throes of creation, where every good thing begins.

This is a moment of decision. You must set aside all personal critique, and cast your imagination into the sea of possibilities. You can choose to enter the adventure, or dismiss it for another day. But if you enter, you will most likely find children with bated breath, fully engaged, and loving the story you invent, no matter how awful it truly was.

flying-mama.jpg

Children love a good story. Of course children love stories read to them. Reading a good book to a child is one of the most precious, life giving things a parent can do. And yet it is often the made-up tales, half baked and happened upon by tired parents that children love most.

“Mama, tell me a story,” children cry. They ache for the tales of ancestry, where you impart your legacy of failures and successes. They long for the fables that tie your wisdom to memory. They know the human adventure entails stories, and they know they are meant hear yours.

I think we all intrinsically know a good story when we hear one. We all have stories passed on to us, through good books, but also through conversation. The art of conversation is developed and honed in storytelling. These stories are living and breathing beyond a page, in timeless oral tradition.

Your story need not be perfect, but if you want to enter the tradition that knits together communities and deepens familial bonds, then these stories must be told by you. If you find yourself ready to take the plunge, here are some simple solutions to storytelling.

wolf-red-riding-hood.jpg

Raid the Classics

Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Goldilocks are waiting to be reinvented. Put your kids into these tales. Make them the hero, the villain, or the sidekick. You can tell the story just as it always was, but with new names, or your can change it up a little. Give them superpowers, or modernize the story by putting it in their neighborhood or school.

Use the pattern

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning introduces the characters and world. The middle creates all the drama, tension, and problems. And the end is the solution. One writer once said “your job as a storyteller is to make your character as miserable as possible.” Simply put, throw all kinds of problems and challenges at your character. And when you are certain that things can’t get worse, it’s time for the ending. Find a solution, be it miracle or ingenuity of your character, they will succeed, conquer the villain, or save the day.

You have helpers

If you are making up a story, then realize you are not alone. You will need to give your kids a few prompts, but they are creative beyond belief, and if you throw the task at them, they will rise to the occasion. If you are stuck in your story, and you don’t know what to do next, make it your kids job to come up with something! Even if their idea isn’t going to take you where you wish, you at least have a moment to think of your next step while they throw out some thoughts. They are in this story with you, and they probably put you on spot, so they are responsible to make this happen too.

Your life is full of stories

If you cannot think of made-up story then tap into your past. Your life history is full of little memories that your children will find more precious than you can believe. They love to connect with you, and what better way than telling of your own life? My children especially love it when I share about my childhood. Unfortunately my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I still have a few tales that are embedded in my brain from being a kid, and they don’t mind hearing those stories on repeat.

Tell the family history

Grandpa, grandma, aunts and uncles, share your family tales. These connect your children to their roots. There is reason why people love to look up their family tree and share their ancestry. They want to know where they come from. It brings clarity to their present, and inspires their future.

They know the human adventure entails stories, and they know they are meant hear yours.


You might only jump into storytelling once in a while, but do jump in. Your children will cherish it, and be formed by it. Our world is full of professional storytellers, whether film director, author, or animator. But these will never hold a candle to the story you tell after you hear that precious request, “Mama, tell me a story.”

Today is for Eternity

It is easy to get stuck in the wrong time zone.

Rehearsing the past- what I should have, could have, would have, but can’t do anything about anymore. Continuing to wonder what would have been if only I had done, or said, or thought differently. Regret and shame can build dreadful little homes in our hearts when we rehearse the past.

Worrying about the future- “What if?” can color my world with a million grand dreams or million nightmares. Living today attached to “what if?” can be paralyzing. Fear has its greatest hold on us in this worry. Yet this worry has no reality. Worry is merely hypothetical threats.

Living only for today- this seems quite admirable. It’s so close to where we need to be. We need to be present, taking one step at a time, living in the moment. But if we only lived for this moment, we would be quite ruthless with our time, energy and goals.

When moments are so fleeting, and we see our children growing faster than we can comprehend, and we still value our yesterdays, how do we live in the right relationship with our time?

Past, present, or future, it all succumbs to the weight of eternity.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time.
He has planted eternity in the human heart,
but even so, people cannot see the whole scope
of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

Eternity is the time beyond now that gives purpose to my entire existence. The mistakes I made can become redeemed as stepping stones over pitfalls in light of eternity. The dreams I dream, that are too big and wonderful for me to ever achieve alone, become the seeds of promise in eternity. The today where I succeed becomes a stitch in the golden tapestry of goodness that will only be seen in its fullness in eternity.

My hopes should always be too full and too big, because they are not only mine. They belong to those who have gone before me and cheer me on from heaven. They belong to those who are still ahead of me, who can run long past me.

Eternity tells me that my past can be redeemed. Eternity shows me my future can be better. Eternity reminds me that today is important, but today is not the sum of the future. Today is a stepping stone on a road filled with promise, and that’s where I need to live.

Know nothing except... a lesson in teaching my kids

kids-study.jpg

You want the best for your kids. Admittedly I want my kids to be little geniuses that create astonishing advancements for the good of mankind. Because who doesn’t want their kid to succeed? Who doesn’t want their kid to ace their exams, stand head and shoulders above the rest, and lead the world in making it a better place? I often find myself pressured to produce greatness in my children. As a homeschooler, I have seen the kids who graduated at 15, became lawyers at 18, and are on their way to presidency by 25, and I think “yup, I’m doing it all wrong. My kid isn’t a concert pianist, or a rocket scientist, or a brilliant mathematician.” And I hang my head.

I succumb to comparison. I get sucked into my own schooling goals for excellence. And pretty soon a drive that was once a healthy desire for strong academics becomes unrealistic expectations, lack of vision, and frustrated teaching.

“God, I can’t do it. I can’t be the teacher or the mom I need to be. I didn’t check all the boxes. I’m not reaching my goals. I’m not being the person I want to be. My kid isn’t being the kid I want him to be. I’m failing. Someone can do this so much better, with so much more grace.”

It was one of those days. Two kids under two demanding all my attention, while my older two are trying to wade through their homework and barraging me with frustrated questions. Then God directed me to these words...“Know nothing... but Christ.”

Paul writes to Corinth as a spiritual father who wants to teach those under his care. There are many things Paul can teach them. Yet he chooses to forget everything else but one thing- Jesus. “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” He goes on to say that he shared Jesus in such a way that demonstrated the power of the Spirit, ensuring that their faith would not rest on human wisdom.

I resolved to know nothing... except Jesus

This whole chapter blows my mind. It challenges every priority I set forth and shifts every aim to center around Christ first.

What if all I ever achieved was to demonstrate the love of God? What if my kids never really excel at basics like reading and math, but they leave my home as adults living and loving like Jesus? What if all they really know is Christ?

Paul continues to say that there is wisdom to be gained; that we can strive to grow in knowledge, and our wise Creator has endless wonders for us to explore and discover in our schooling journey! But Paul qualifies all our wisdom and knowledge seeking with this important first premise- first, know Christ.

Know His heart. Know His boundless love. Know Christ’s humility that serves generously and heartily. Know Christ’s deep compassion that moves us beyond complacency. Know Christ’s great grace that washes away our failures and equips us to forgive one another. Know Christ’s goodness that calls us to enjoy Him in all the beauty displayed in the world around us.

Know His Heart.
Know His boundless love.
Know His humility that serves generously and heartily.

Know Christ. For as we know Him, we will indeed grow, and seek knowledge, and gain wisdom. As they know Christ, my children will desire to unveil the wonders of God through applied study. And then, when they are ready to tackle the world on their own, and find their own voice, they will tackle it with love, and servanthood, and goodness. Their voices will be the ones to sing praises, and speak life, and cry out for justice until it appears. They will not only know things, they will do good things with what they know.

beautiful-learn.jpg

As we Know Him,
we will indeed grow, and seek knowledge, and gain wisdom.

So maybe the boxes won’t all get checked. Maybe we won’t reach all our goals. Maybe my kid won’t be a genius. But if I can love like Jesus, and walk in grace toward my children, and invite them to know Christ, then even in my failures they will know more goodness than any math book could ever give.

They will not only know things,
they will do good things with what they know.

It Ain’t Stranger Danger Anymore

safe-heart.jpeg

“Don’t talk to strangers” doesn’t work anymore. It used to be the cure-all of how to protect your kid. But if a child is lost, they will need to talk to a stranger. If your child ever wants to make friends they will need to talk to a stranger. In fact we talk to strangers all the time. It just doesn’t make sense to make an all encompassing rule of “never talk to strangers.”

Instead we need to teach children who is safe. They need to be on guard for manipulative or deceptive adults. who they can trust, and how to be safe. It has been found that a large percentage of abuse and assault comes from family, friends or acquaintances. That means that they are more likely to be harmed by someone they know than a stranger. We need to equip our kids in a new way.

Check out this website for more information on rethinking stranger danger, and this website for help concerning abuse. Here are some important guidelines for what to teach your child to help them be safe.

Look out for tricky adults.

 

  1. Teach kids to recognize tricky adults.

    • Tricky adults never need help from a child.

    • Tricky adults ask you to keep secrets.

    • Tricky people might be someone you love very much. Even people we love can do bad things, so never feel bad about telling the truth about people you love.

    • Tricky adults will lie. They might pretend to know your parents, to be someone important like a police officer, pretend there is an emergency, or act like they can boss you around. Always check with your parents before trusting anything a stranger says.

    • Tricky adults often seem very nice and friendly, give you things, or promise nice things.

    • Tricky adults will ask you to do something that might make you feel uncomfortable, and then they will tell you it is good or nice.

  2. Mothers with children are safe. I tell my children that if they are ever lost and need help they can go find a mother with children. I give this caveat- go find a mother with children. Don’t go with a mother that comes to you. They can also trust a uniformed officer.

  3. Create a code. Give your children a secret code word that can be given to trusted adults when picking them up. Teach your children to ask for the secret code word before going with the adult. This will help guard children against tricky adults who create false emergencies. If you need to send someone to pick up your child in an actual emergency, the trusted adult can share the secret code word and the child will know they are safe. 

  4. Name private parts what they are. No silly names. Teaching your children the proper anatomical names empowers your children with language to explain and understand. If they begin using silly names, you will know that someone has been speaking to them other than you.

  5. Allow kids to say no. Even to Aunt Philomena. If kids are corrected for saying no to adults for unwanted affection, then their ability to understand boundaries is affected, and they may feel wrong for expressing discomfort for affection they have received. You don’t want to hug Aunt Philomena? You don’t have to. You don’t want to kiss Grandpa George? That’s ok.

  6. Encourage your kids to show affection. Are you contradicting yourself, lady? Didn’t you just say kids can say no? Encourage your kids to show affection, but do not force them. By teaching your kids what healthy physical relating looks like and feels like you are enforcing a lifelong health of relating. Don’t put no-touch policies on your kids. Instead encourage the right kind of touch. Good touch fosters good touch. No touching philosophies encourages acting out, frustrated bodies, and incapable relating. For younger kids (e.g. 2-7 years), if you notice bad touching from peers, (such as aggression or unwelcome behaviors) counter the touch with correction and a better response.

  7. Teach kids to respect no. Teach your child to respect others boundaries. If another child doesn't want a hug, encourage them when they listen, or affirm that they must respect that child's boundaries. This helps your child to recognize and resist abuse, and be an advocate for those being mistreated.

  8. Trust your child when they express concern or uncomfortability. Listen to them. Ask them questions, and let them know they can share anything with you.

  9. If your child has been mistreated... 

    1. 1-I love you, and always will. 2-You are safe. 3-It's not your fault. The moment that a child shares an experience abuse, you must affirm your love for them, let them know they are safe with you, and that they have done nothing wrong. Often when a child has been abused they fear sharing what has happened, and wonder if they will still be accepted if a parent finds out. Abusers are manipulative. They often threaten harm if they tell what has happened. They also try making a child think that they initiated the contact, and therefore that they are responsible. 

    2. If they share an experience or you discover that they have been mistreated, ask questions to get as many details as possible and write them down. (E.g. What happened, who was involved, where was it, how often, for how long has this been happening, etc.) If the child is not in immediate danger, then wait until they are rested before speaking to the police so that they can speak clearly.

lock.jpeg

It is scary to consider your child being in danger. Worrying does not help, but being wise and teaching kids does. Above all be aware of your children and keep conversation open. Make the time to connect with them, and don't be afraid to ask hard questions. 

I love you.
You are safe.
It’s not your fault.

"Did you have fun?" Asking better questions

pexels-bubble.jpeg

Kids come home from a friends house. “Did you have fun?”

Kids finished playing in the pool. “Did you have fun?”

Kids pile into the car, seat belts fastened, sweat dripping from foreheads, breathing heavily from a good run, jump and slide. As we pull out of the playground driveway I ask yet again, “did you have fun?”

I know why I say it. When it comes to playdates or outings where we were not with our kids, we often use the quick “did you have fun?” to check-up on what transpired outside our watchful eye.

But what am I really asking them?

Did you get satisfaction from what just happened? Were your desires met? Did you get everything you wanted from this experience? Did you benefit? Did you get treated the way you wanted? Were you catered to? Were you satisfied?

“Did you have fun?” asks about personal fulfillment. And that is a good thing- but there are better things. There are better questions. Because we are not aiming to teach our kids to be concerned about themselves. We are aiming to teach our kids to be concerned about others.

Human beings seem to have little trouble looking out for ourselves. We are pretty good at wanting things that please us. “Did you have fun?” puts the focus of our activities on personal pleasure. It implies that an activity was successful, worth our time, or worth trying again if we “had fun”.

I’m not knocking fun. As Dr Suess would say, “these things are fun, and fun is good.” Fun is good. But the question “did you have fun” implies a passive reception of fun. As if your kid should have been on the receiving end of the fun. But they can be the generators of the fun. In fact, usually that’s when the fun happens.

Did you make it fun?

So the first shift I propose is this: Did you make it fun?

With this small shift in focus we give our kids the opportunity to consider others. They become responsible. They are no longer at the mercy of the experience- they create the experience. They are capable to change their situation. They have a choice in the matter. They are empowered to make a situation better. They can change pouting, negativity, or lack into an opportunity for “fun”. They can even make it fun for the others involved, not just themselves.

And this brings me to another question. Because sometimes things aren’t always fun. Sometimes things are hard. Sometimes we give and we don’t receive, and that’s ok too.

We can ask a bigger question.

“Did you love well?”

Another mom shared this doozy of a question with me. What a beautiful question. What an important question. What an important task.

Did you love well?
girls-children-kids-friends.jpeg

Suddenly we are not the center of the universe. Suddenly our activities are not just about us. We are challenged to love. Even if it wasn’t fun. Even if it was hard. When we ask our kids this question we ask them to consider their actions in light of others. And even though they might be young or small, they can make any situation valuable and important. They can love, and love well. 

These questions can open up conversation with your kids, and give you the check-in you were intending. If you worry that a playdate might have gone awry, or someone could have mistreated your child, then "did you have fun" or "did you love well" might give you a hint, but you'll have to dig deeper. But these questions do serve to change our kids perspective about playdates and their role in the world. They are agents of change and an influence of good. 

They can love their neighbor. They can share. They can sacrifice. They can be the greater good, no matter the circumstance. And that is worth asking. It is worth asking our little ones. It is worth asking ourselves. It is worth implementing. For when we love well, we change the world.